Feds seek leniency for star NXIVM trial witness Lauren Salzman

Albany Times-Union/July 19, 2021

By Robert Gavin

New York – Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn want a lenient sentence for ex-NXIVM official Lauren Salzman, citing her “extraordinary assistance” against reputed cult leader Keith Raniere and other members of his Colonie-based organization.

Under sentencing guidelines, Salzman, 45, the daughter of longtime NXIVM president Nancy Salzman, faces up to nine years in prison July 28 for racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. But prosecutors asked Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis to sentence Salzman — a former high-ranking member of both NXIVM and Raniere’s secret “master/slave” club Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS) — to a sentence below the guidelines.

Prosecutors made no specific recommendation, but praised Salzman's cooperation far more effusively than they did last month for actress Allison Mack, another former high-ranking NXIVM and DOS member who pleaded guilty to similar charges as Salzman. Mack cooperated with prosecutors but, unlike Salzman, did not testify at trial. Mack received three years in prison.

Over four days, Salzman provided devastating testimony against Raniere, the so-called "Vanguard" — her former lover, mentor and inflictor of emotional cruelty. Raniere had been in Salzman's life since the wannabe guru and her mother co-founded NXIVM and its Executive Successful Programs (ESP), a purported personal growth company on New Karner Road, in 1998.

"Lauren Salzman provided extraordinary assistance to the government’s investigation and prosecution of this case,"  Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Hajjar wrote in a July 16 sentencing memo to Garaufis. She said Salzman divulged crimes she committed, "as well as criminal activity engaged in by her close friends and family members, including her mother."

Hajjar said Salzman's efforts "substantially contributed" to Raniere's conviction on all charges, which included sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering counts that included underlying acts of possessing child pornography, exploitation of a child and extortion. Raniere, 60, a longtime resident of Halfmoon, is serving 120 years in prison in Tucson.

Hajjar said Salzman provided information to prosecutors that they otherwise would not have learned. “By virtue of her close, decades-long relationship with Raniere, Lauren Salzman was privy to a significant amount of information regarding Raniere’s role in directing criminal activity within the enterprise, even where Raniere had taken great pains to conceal his role," Hajjar stated.

Salzman, a longtime Halfmoon resident, was with Raniere when he was arrested in March 2018 in a resort in a Mexican fishing village. Salzman would later testify at his trial that he hid in a closet as she was left to face officers aiming machine guns at her.

Hajjar told the judge Salzman immediately began providing "full, complete and reliable" information after her guilty plea in March 2019. She said Salzman admitted her role in Raniere’s confinement of a Mexican woman to a room in her family’s townhouse on Wilton Court for nearly two years between 2010 and 2012. The woman, whom Ranire groomed for sex when she was a teenager, incurred his wrath because she dared to kiss another man.

“At Raniere’s instruction, Lauren Salzman threatened (the woman) that if (she) left the room, she would be sent to Mexico without any identification documents,” Hajjar stated. At one point, the woman cut her hair. Raniere instructed Salzman to tell the woman that she would have to remain in the room until her hair grew back.

The woman, on the brink of suicide, left the room in February 2012. Raniere ordered she be driven to Mexico and demanded she complete book reports or not get her birth certificate. She later became a key witness against Raniere.  The woman's younger sister became sexually involved with Raniere at 15 and, a few years later, one of eight "first-line masters" in DOS, along with, among others, Mack and Salzman.

At Raniere's instruction, women in DOS recruited members by falsely portraying the group as a women's empowerment sorority. Raniere's role atop the group was kept secret. To join, women were required to divulge embarrassing information or hand over naked photos as "collateral." Once in the group, they learned they were "slaves" who took lifetime vows of obedience to "masters." They were starved on diets of only a few hundred calories a day, forced to respond to text messages in drills for 'readiness" at all hours of the night and, in many cases, ordered to sexually seduce Raniere. Some women, including Salzman, were ordered to be branded on their pelvic regions with a symbol they later learned was Raniere's initials. 

Hajjar said Salzman told prosecutors about Raniere's role in DOS, efforts by Raniere and NXIVM operations director Clare Bromfman, the Seagrams' fortune heiress, to discredit DOS victims and lie about Raniere's role in DOS, as well as Raniere's plans to secure a "virgin successor" to one of his top "slaves."

Salzman's mother is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 8 for her plea to racketeering conspiracy. The judge previously sentenced Bronfman to six years and nine months in prison for conspiracy to conceal and harbor illegal aliens for financial gain, and to fraudulent use of identification. NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell, who pleaded guilty to visa fraud,  also still awaits sentencing.

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